I’m the company bad cop and my job makes everyone hate me

A reader writes:

Just wanted to get your thoughts on how to deal with people who take things personally at work. I am a natural hard-ass at work, precisely because I roll out policies and procedures in my current company. I am good at what I do, and I get great feedback from my bosses in my assignments. Trouble is, because of the policies I create, I impact the whole organization in a negative way (my policies are around cost control and expense management which naturally make me Public Enemy #1, but they will be good for the company in the long run).

I am just doing my job the best way I can, but people in my company have associated me personally to what I do. I get pouts, snobs when I enter the elevator. People do not respond to my emails when I need to have a question answered. I am basically shunned! It kind of hurts that people do not see this as purely business, that this is my job.

How do you think I should deal with this?

Hmmm. Aside from their behavior toward you, how are you acting toward them? Are you being warm and friendly, showing camaraderie, and working to get to know them?

I ask because I suspect the reactions that you’re getting aren’t simply part of the package with the role you’re in; I suspect it’s something about the way you’re going about the role — your style with people.

And I say that because this is a role where your style really matters. Because the work you’re doing can easily position you as the bad cop, you need to make a point of ensuring that your style doesn’t reinforce or feed into that. If all people know of you is that you’re the person who issues edicts that make their lives more difficult, then yeah, they’re not going to feel especially warmly toward you. But if you’re warm and friendly toward people — possibly more than what might come naturally to you — it’s going to be harder to see you as the grinch.

And it will also help if you educate people about what you do and why (if you’re not doing this already). For instance, rather than simply rolling out a new policy or procedure, make sure that you take the time to explain why — what alternatives were considered, what the consequences would be without the new policy, and so forth. That too makes it a lot harder for people to see you the way they might if all they know of your work is that it seems to lack empathy for or understanding of how it impacts them.

When you’re good at what you do and you’re getting good feedback from your manager, it’s easy to feel like this kind of thing shouldn’t matter. But it does — both because you’re hurt by the response that you’re getting from people and because it will almost certainly make you even better at your job. Having policies that benefit the organization is a good thing, but having buy-in on those policies from employees — or at least understanding of why those policies exist — is even better.

If you feel like you’re doing everything above and still running into this, then at that point you might consider soliciting feedback from people around you about what they might see that you don’t. It’s possible, after all, that it’s something entirely different from the above. But the above is where I’d start, before resigning yourself to the idea that the job itself will make people dislike you.

{ 103 comments… read them below }

  1. clobbered*

    “they will be good for the company in the long run”

    If people hate you, you have completely failed to *show* them that this is true (and no, simply asserting it does not count).

    Also bear in mind that just because something will be good for the company in the long run does not make it good policy – there could be better policies that have the same positive effect yet have less negative impact on staff. For example banning paper clips might save money, whereas people really want paper clips and wonder why you don’t get rid of those crappy pens with the company logo on instead, if the company is so hard up for cash that it’s banning paper clips.

    Same thing with expensing – you can gain control of expense claims in a sensible way, or you can gain the same amount back financially in a way that makes everybody’s life hell. Your managers will see the saving and pat you in the back, but that doesn’t mean it’s a job well done.

    Note that if people are really snubbing you, you have pissed them off. Pissing staff off is not good for the company’s long term future either. I second what AaM said – find somebody with more honesty than sense and get them to tell you what the problem really is.

    tl;dr: the policy person is not the bad cop. if that’s how you see yourself, or how others see you, something’s wrong.

    1. Jessa*

      I love your advice to find someone you trust and just ask them. This can be VERY helpful if the OP takes Alison’s other advice on how to have these kind of conversations – IE don’t take it personally and don’t be defencive.

    2. John*

      I think sometimes you can show how it will benefit the company but people will not see this no matter what. I work for an organization with a very generous meal reimbursement policy for travel ($125 per meal and can include alcohol). If they were to change this by covering $50 per meal and no alcohol, a certain amount of people would be very upset even though it helps the company save money and is reasonable.

      1. MR*

        If you were the decision maker on this, and you came out with this new policy, you could additionally state that “87 percent of meals were below $50 and 76 percent of all meals did not include alcohol, so as a result, we are making changes based on these findings.”

        Or something like that.

        1. Cat*

          Depends on if the hypothetical 13% and 24% were all from a few people or if they were evenly distributed amongst the company. If the former, you’re showing that a few people are abusing the system. If the latter, you’re likely to leave people thinking “so then why does it matter if I bought the client a beer at dinner that one time or spent $60 that time I got stuck in the weird resort town with no cheap dining options?”

          1. Anonymous*

            If you can point out that the company would save enough money so that bonuses could be bigger, that would help.

      2. Cat*

        I think it’s classy to cover a glass of wine or beer with dinner on business trips; it’s a pain to unwind those from your receipts and sometimes you really need it after a long day of work travel. I can see people being annoyed about that even if it is, technically, reasonable. ($125 does seem really high though!)

        1. Bea W*

          $125 per meal (not per day) is ridiculous. My company has similar reimbursement. I nearly fell over when found out. I was used to a $30-50 limit per DAY, which is totally reasonable unless maybe you’re in NYC. I don’t skip meals either. I eat 3 square plus snacks and don’t get anywhere near the 3 digit mark!

          1. Jessa*

            $150 for what though? For one person? For taking someone important to the company to a fancy restaurant? I think we’re lacking information that could make $150 perfectly reasonable.

            1. Gjest*

              I agree. I think rules like this need to be flexible enough to allow for situations where you might need to go above what is expected for one person. At one conference I went to for my old job, I had a collaborator pick up the tab for a meal. Later that week, we were out again together, and I felt the polite and professional thing to do was to pick up their meal. Later when I tried to claim it on my expenses, my work would not pay for it because it was over my dinner allowance- even though I had not claimed the earlier meal that the collaborator paid for (we had to keep all receipts, it wasn’t strictly per diem- another giant hassle and waste of time for me and the admins processing them, which negated any cost savings, but I digress…). So the nice thing the collaborator did just turned into my work screwing me in the end.

              tl;dr There needs to be a balance between rules and trusting your employees.

              1. Bea W*

                Companies should have, and in my industry, often do have separate rules for picking up the tab for other people for a business related meal. Some companies don’t really allow it but also don’t expressly forbid it, and you’ll get screwed. I’ve found the following to be true in my experience. If your funding comes from grants or government contracts, don’t try picking up the tab for anyone. Government funding in particular has strict per diem amounts. If you work for private industry, you may or may not be able to pick up the tab as a “working meal” and get reimbursed. Unfortunately you can’t take your cue from others at the table. There are no hard and fast rules in the private sector, and even on a strict per diem only, your collegues may be playing with a very different budget.

                1. Gjest*

                  I can understand being hamstrung by grant/funding regulations, but most of these rules were in-house rules that were created over my 6 years working there. When the company has the flexibility available to them, they should not treat their employees like kids who can’t be trusted not to buy candy with their lunch money. And when a seemingly arbitrary rule has arisen due to grant restrictions, they should just tell us that. Otherwise it just makes it seem like they are punishing employees. I think most employees just want to be treated like adults.

            2. Bea W*

              One person per meal where I work. I wonder how much people really spend and where they came up with those limits.

    3. Kou*

      This exactly. And if they’re coming in with the attitude of “these are good ideas and everyone who doesn’t like them needs to get over themselves,” which it sounds like they are, it’s not every other person’s fault that this isn’t well received.

    4. Jazzy Red*

      “For example banning paper clips might save money, whereas people really want paper clips and wonder why you don’t get rid of those crappy pens with the company logo on instead, if the company is so hard up for cash that it’s banning paper clips. ”

      My company has been going through hard times for the last couple of years, and we’ve had various types of cost reductions as well as staff reductions (I got laid off yesterday). One of their cost reductions was to stop supplying plastic eating utensils and paper plates in the lunchroom (we would bring our own food). For years they threw money around like Jesse Pinkman, and they thought they could make it up by not buying plastic forks??

      The guy in charge of these things simply issues edicts. He never explains or makes people feel like…human beings. If the OP works like this, then honestly, why would any of the employees like him?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Excellent Jesse Pinkman reference.

        I did a public radio interview recently about the trend of companies not supplying plastic utensils as a cost-cutting measure. It makes people feel nickled-and-dimed and can’t possibly address budget shortfalls.

        1. Lola*

          My job used to provide bagels every Friday morning for staff. They weren’t the best bagels– they were cheap bagels from the local chain grocery store. But still. It was very demoralizing when they stopped doing it. It could not have saved more than $500 or so but yet made all of us feel bad. That small gesture went a long way.

          1. Elizabeth*

            Interesting how it feels much more demoralizing to have a perk taken away. I’ve never had bagels provided on a regular basis, and never felt unappreciated because of it – but I definitely agree that if I had had them and they went away, I’d feel let down.

            There was a Planet Money episode about how veterans are still angry with the Red Cross because during WWII they offered free donuts to servicemen… then (briefly) charged for them.

              1. Tax Nerd*

                (My grandfather is one of those vets. Fifty years afterwards, he still refused to donate to the American Red Cross. He’d give to the British Red Cross instead, because they never charged, and even gave a few donuts to American soldiers.)

                1. Andrea*

                  My middle school history teacher was married to one of those vets and told us about them charging for coffee. No kidding, folks remember that and do not care what the reasoning was—your grandfather is not the only one who won’t give to the Red Cross because of it. That was a decision that certainly had long-term ramifications!

                2. Observer*

                  This is a perfect example of what I was talking about down-thread. Whatever their reasoning was, it left them worse off than before, because it injured relationships with key stakeholders (in this case, recipients who had high potential to become donors.)

        2. Anna*

          I agree with your response to the OP 100% and with this statement too. As a cost cutting measure, the office manager at my old job decided to stop stocking the First Aid kit with basics like ibuprofen and regular bandages. Everyone knew it wasn’t saving the company that much money (especially when other sites had AMAZINGLY stocked First Aid kits with just about everything). It created more resentment than anything else.

          I would also add to your response to the OP that whenever we got bad news at my old job about cost cutting measures, very few people ended up resenting the bearer of bad news because the person sending out the info was always the CFO and he always let us know what had been considered and what was best overall.

          1. Jay*

            Our company has removed all non-essentials from the first aid kits. It does, in fact, save a significant amount of money because the majority of employees were treating it like their personal CVS store. With 100+ employees things like antacids, advil, and tylenol would be gone the day it was restocked. Sad but true….

        3. The IT Manager*

          It’s all about taking away what people have come to expect because I find it very odd for a company to provide utensils but not food. If I am bringing my own food, I expect to have to bring everything needed to eat it. I don’t don’t assume without checking that there’s a fridge or microwave, but thinking back I think all my previous offices had it.

        4. Bea W*

          Much like some airlines are now charging people $9 to get to choose a regular seat that isn’t in the last 3 rows or a middle seat. Just raise the price of my ticket $x and be done with it. That can’t be an effective strategy for making up a deficit.

        5. Beth Anne*

          This reminds me of an episode of Men at Work. One of the workers was trying to get on the bosses good side by cutting costs..so he took out all the coffee and supplies in the break room…those employees were NOT happy to find no coffee in the break room!

      2. LizNYC*

        So sorry to hear you got laid off!

        But I know what you mean. At OldJob, we didn’t have a coffeemaker to make our own coffee, much less free coffee or plastic utensils (too expensive). By the time I left, they had upgraded to buying 1 Keurig per floor (each floor had 100+ people…). At NewJob, we have plastic AND real utensils, a dishwasher, real and paper plates, free coffee — and it just makes you feel like you’re being treated like a human being instead of a “worker.”

        1. Jazzy Red*

          Thanks, everyone! While it was not a surprise or a great shock, there’s still a lot of emotional stuff to go through. There’s no problem with unemployment, thankfully.

          I did my first online application today, and was not a bit surprised to 1) time out, then 2) have it disappear when I tried to submit, after spending more than an hour on it. I’ll try it again tomorrow when I’m feeling less frustrated. The job description sounds pretty good.

    5. Bea W*

      True true true, and this totally reminded me of a period of budget cuts up the wazoo for months and months, and in the middle of that someone decided to install fancy flat screen monitors all over the place and ginormous TVs in place of screens in conference rooms. Like…srsly? It’s so bad you took away open reqs and told people to cut travel and WTH?

      Sorry for the tangent! Next they’ll ask us to stop buying paperclips!

      1. Ruffingit*

        I love it when companies do that kind of thing. “We’re sorry, but we’re going to have to go on a cost-cutting diet. Oh, those flat screen TVs and $10,000 a piece art on the walls? Oh no, those are NECESSARY…”

        1. Anonymous*

          Our company has been putting the big flat screens into the smaller conference rooms as the projectors have needed to be replaced. They’re now less expensive than projectors, especially when you factor in the $200 bulb cost every 2 months for a heavily used room.

          But they’re not just going out an getting them, they’re waiting on the projectors to fail.

          1. Ruffingit*

            If there’s a real reason, that’s one thing, but when they cut out a whole bunch of things that are needed for their employees, but then supply a conference room with a TV that isn’t needed, I can see the bitterness people express.

            1. Bea W*

              Some of our rooms now have both. Some have TWO giant TVs and the projector, although to be fair, the 2 TV rooms are video conference enabled. Plus many departments keep portable projectors because not all rooms are AV equipped. It would have made sense to put TVs in those rooms, especially the smaller ones where a flat screen on the wall would be more practical than a table top projector.

              The dozen+ signage screens in common areas are just overkill. Each one required in-wall installation on electric and network wiring. They display things like the weekly lunch menu. It would be cool under any other circumstance, but not when my group has more work than people to do it.

              I love my job and my employer is otherwise good to people, but these decisions being made in the upper stratisphere sometimes boggle the mind. Maybe we’re saving money in the long run this way, but the damage to morale comes with its own cost. I don’t need menus and feel good photos projected everywhere. I need more resources to get the work done.

      2. fposte*

        British magnate Duncan Bannatyne claims he did just that and told his staff just to reuse the paperclips on incoming documents.

        1. Cat*

          Actually, that kind of makes sense. I can’t remember the last time I actually had to hunt down a paper clip or binder clip. Instead, I regularly drop batches of them I’ve taken off of documents I’m recycling off at the supply closet. .

  2. Bean*

    Something that may be happening is the managers are using OP as a scapegoat. Even though OP may be implementing policies that are benefiting the organization and the managers are commending them for their work, when employees complain, managers might do the “Well, I didn’t make up this rule” or “You’re preaching to the choir, “OP” is the one who created the policy”.

    I do like Alison’s advice on explaining to everybody why this new policy is in place, how it will benefit them and why it was chosen over other alternatives.

  3. Mena*

    I over-see market research and am sometimes in the position of delivering not-so-welcomed news about how we are doing. I try to separate what I learn from what I think/want/feel and gently remind folks to not shoot the messenger (me!!) It can take some charm and a lot of patience. You may need to examine your personal office style in how you roll out policies (i.e. acknowlege the pain of the cost cuts, exemplify the benefits to the company as a whole, etc.) to separate yourself from the policy.

  4. Ann Furthermore*

    This is really great advice. If you tell people the reasoning behind what you’re doing, it makes you more human, and doesn’t seem like you’re off in your little bubble issuing edicts with no thought as to how they’ll impact everyone else.

    Also, something you might consider is to find a group of people whose opinions you respect and ask for their feedback when developing new policies. So instead of just rolling out a new policy, ask that group, “Hey, I’ve been tasked with coming up for a some ways to save money on X expenses. Here are my ideas for how to do that, what do you think/suggest? Are there things here I’m not considering?” Many times, there are things we don’t consider, because they don’t impact us directly. But they do affect others, so it’s great to solicit others’ opinions. Plus, when you roll out a new policy, you can say that you sought feedback from others when designing it and deciding how it would work.

    Your corporate culture might also have something to do with it. My company is a subsidiary of a huge company, but before that acquisition happened, there was a very entrepreneurial atmosphere about the place. If you wanted to do something like explore a new product, you just went off and did it and no one really asked many questions or did much following up. Now that we’re accountable to our parent for our spending, the controls are much tighter and funding has to be approved, and so on. When I first started talking about this idea to people, they took it very personally. Responses like “Don’t you think I know how to run my project?”or “Do you think I’m incompetent?” were the most common reactions. I had to explain that these policies were not about them, specifically, and that they weren’t being targeted or anything like that, but rather we were now accountable to our parent company for our spending and how we used the resources they allocated to us. It didn’t help though. I even tried saying, “We need to get this under control ourselves. If you think I’m a huge pain in the backside, just wait until [parent company] gets tired of waiting for us to do this ourselves, and decides that everything has to be approved by someone there.” Fast forward a few years, and what I predicted has pretty much come to fruition.

  5. Jessa*

    I think one of the biggest issues however is the fact that the OP is self-positioning as the bad cop here. “Naturally a hard arse” does not go hand in hand with being liked. I think a lot of this is about attitude and presentation. Even if you don’t say that to people your demeanour will be coloured by the fact that you think you’re a “hard arse.” This will absolutely cause people not to like you. Particularly if they think that the “hard arse” is not listening to their input.

    You are listening to their input right? With a full and open mind? Sometimes you have to do x no matter what, there is no other way, but if the downstream clients (and those workers are kinda your clients in a way,) absolutely cannot work that way, you need to explain that. Which only works if when you CAN make changes that make their lives easier you have done so.

    It’s much easier to say you have to use the green framistram to do the inventory counting (even though it’s heavy, unwieldy and freakishly hard to programme,) when if last month you had a policy about submitting teapot breakage reports and you listened when Sue said “you realise if we have to submit them every time they occur, it’s going to waste hours of our time, and be very inefficient,” and you modified the procedure to submit them all at the end of the day or the beginning of the next day.

    If they think you’re taking their concerns into account (and they’re the end users IT DOES MATTER,) they’ll be a lot more sympathetic to the things you cannot change. If they understand WHY it’s being done, they’ll be a lot more willing to roll out change. If they know you’re behind them and want to make the best decision for the company that impacts them in the least harmful way (and sometimes that’s a balancing act of teapots on plates on a stick on your head whilst you’re riding an elephant standing up, but still.)

    Also if they only ever hear from you when you happen to bump into them, and they think you have no darned clue of what they actually do, or really care about them except superficially when you pass them or hand down from on high the new commandments, then…that’s an issue on its own.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      I had this impression too. This statement bothered me the most:

      I am a natural hard-ass at work, precisely because I roll out policies and procedures in my current company

      Rolling out policies and procedures has nothing to do with being a hard-ass!! Yes, that’s right – absolutely nothing. The key to rolling out policies is influence, which is getting people to accept your policy. It isn’t jamming it down the throats of others. Yes, you can force them into it but you definitely won’t get the good results you would get if you convinced people that they wanted it.
      And you don’t have to be hard in order to have boundaries and have high standards either.

      And cutting costs needs to be done in the right way. You should be getting inputs from your stakeholders (you’re doing that, right?). Cutting costs by removing needed software and tools will only do two things – keep people from doing their job effectively, and drive out your most productive people. Pennies saved, dollars lost.

      Think hard about being a hard-ass. They usually only succeed in the short term.

      1. Joey*

        Your response sort of baffles me. I can think of tons of hard asses that have successful long careers. (Besides, isn’t Alison a self described hard-ass?)

        And they key isn’t always to get everyone on board to a new policy (its great, but it’s not necessary). Sometimes you have to make unpopular decisions because they are in the best interest of the company. The REAL key is getting people to understand why it was necessary to implement something that was unpopular. Whether or not they agree with the decision isn’t nearly as important as understanding the rationale behind it.

        FWIW, the easiest way to combat this type of perception in my experience is to acknowledge their frustration, really be open to their feedback and be more casual in your interactions with employees. Ask them about their weekend, joke around, make fun of yourself, that kind of stuff. Show them that you’re a nice guy that means business when it comes to work, not the hard ass asshole everyone thinks you are.

  6. Colette*

    Are you outwardly sympathetic about the impact the changes you make have on the people who use those processes/procedures/tools?

    I.e. do you know the impact they will have, acknowledge it, and then explain why you have to do it anyway?

    1. AdAgencyChick*


      Lots of agencies are belt-tightening these days; clients are doing it, and parent companies (since almost all of us belong to some holding company or another) are wanting more profitability even though the clients are spending less. So they take perks away.

      TPTB at some places I’ve worked looooove to present this as “Don’t complain because you’re losing this perk — at Agency X they’re laying people off.” Which… a) sometimes it’s not true, and b) Agency Y, which is under the same holding company, somehow managed to retain that perk (say, because they decided to axe first-class airfare for upper management instead of a benefit that the rank-and-file enjoyed).

      If you don’t do what you can to minimize the pain, or if you fail to communicate that you understand and are sorry for the impact your decisions will have, you will come across as tone-deaf and, indeed, the “bad cop.”

    2. tcookson*


      There are effective and ineffective ways of announcing change. It may seem effective to make a proclamation and expect people to swallow it and shut up about it as quickly as possible. However, people are way more likely to handle news of change graciously if the messenger acknowledges the impact and explains why things have to be different now.

  7. Jamie*

    In addition to IT I’m the ISO management rep and head of internal audits…so I certainly know what it’s like to have to create, implement, and police policy.

    I haven’t had any backlash, though. When I expanded into these roles I was very careful to do a couple of things – one, I never sit behind my desk and create policies solo. If there is a need for policy or procedure I discuss the end goal (what we need this to accomplish) with the relevant department head(s) and we collaborate about how to craft a policy that meets the business needs but doesn’t unnecessarily complicate things in their departments.

    That doesn’t mean things don’t change and that sometimes they need to comply with certain things, but it’s a lot easier to get support and buy in from others when you’ve made them part of the process and taken their input into account. I know ISO standards better than is healthy, and I can craft policies that meet our requirements…but I don’t work in production and on the floor. I don’t have all the knowledge of why X would be so much more time consuming and inefficient than Y where Y meets the same requirements.

    I don’t issue directives – I craft official policy based on what’s best for the company after consulting with the people who bring other POV to the table.

    The second thing I did was explain the whys of changes and policies. I explain things extensively when rolling it out and my door is always open for clarification. My door is extra open if you have a thought or idea as to how something can be improved. If it saves time and or money I’m all ears. If there is a reason we can’t implement it I will explain why. But I always welcome questions.

    What is not acceptable is thinking a policy is wrong and ignoring it. That can’t happen…but if you think it’s wrong and want to talk? That’s great. I don’t have all the answers and people who work on the line are the ones in the position to suggest improvements.

    Open dialogue and open door isn’t weakness…and not to brag on the people with whom I work but I have a ridiculously high compliance rate for procedure. A company our size typically takes 18-24 months to go from start to certification and we did it in 6 months…none of that would have been possible without buy in from everyone. You have to create an atmosphere where policy isn’t something you do TO them, but rather a means to your collective end of a better company.

    1. Mike C.*

      This, seriously. You’ll never get compliance if the folks who have to comply never have any input. It’s an important point in political science as well, for all you wannabe dictators.

    2. ExceptionToTheRule*

      It took me a long time to learn the lesson Jamie’s put out here far more eloquently than I could.

    3. Andrea Also*

      Everything Jamie said with an emphasis on this:

      “we collaborate about how to craft a policy that meets the business needs but doesn’t unnecessarily complicate things in their departments.”

      In my experience, it’s not so much that people hate change, it’s that they hate *stupid* change.

      I also find people like intelligent cost control.

      If you change a warehouse supply vendor and save 20% in the process, people think that’s great if you 1) explain why and how much you are saving, 2) forewarn them, it’s going to take a couple of extra days to get your delivery so plan ahead and 3) tell them it is okay to order from the original vendor in a need it fast situation. Oh and also 4) ask that the affected parties to give you feedback within the first 30 days so you can implement any changes or fixes to make this as smooth as possible.

      The opposite of that is sending a company wide email that “Effective 11/1/13 all warehouse supplies must be ordered from vendor XYZ and you are to no longer order from vendor ABC. This is all.”

      I always make buy in a priority not so much to get people to like me but because it’s a good business practice.

      1. Bea W*

        Ohdeargodyes! I worked at one place where we were discouraged from collaborating with other departments on procedures. The attitude was that it was OUR procedure, and other depts shouldn’t be calling the shots. You can imagine how effective that was when we imposed our edicts on other departments who were part of one of our processes. I felt like I had to be sneaky everytime I slipped off to try to collaborate with people who I surmised I ought to be in some kind of process war with. The Us vs. Them approach results in a lot of stupid change.

        1. Andrea Also*


          And how is that working out for them?

          That’s the question I ask internal procedure-by-edict makers. (Hint, the answer is “not at all”, every time.)

          You’re always going to have some element of inter-departmental procedure strife – sales v marketing v fulfillment v administrative staff v financial, etc, because like blind men and the elephant, each is only examining one piece of the pachyderm, but you gotta yell out, “Hey Wakeen, what’s the big fellow feel like on your side?” before you decide what everybody should do next.

          I have one department left who thinks this way, A/R. They keep trying to issue massive multi page documents with credit and payment policy steps and procedures for my inside sales reps. And I keep throwing the procedures-by-the pound in the trash. I tell them: you get five bullet points taking up no more than half a page. When you can distill down to something that has half a chance of being implemented successfully, we’ll implement.

          They pretty much hate me. :)

          Coming soon to AAM “My Boss Keeps Throwing My Policy Procedure Manuals In The Trash”.

          1. Bea W*

            If what they were aiming for was massive dysfunction, I’d say it was working very well.

            When I left some newly revised “guidelines” had grown in excess of 20 pages. It was like death by 1000 paper cuts.

  8. KJR*

    I can somewhat relate to this — I’m in HR and often have to either write policy or “enforce” it. (By the way, some of the stories I’ve read on here about HR people make me shudder…we’re not all like that, I promise!)

    At any rate, I find it helps that I know and am friendly with everyone, and have a somewhat personal relationship with each of them — I know their spouse’s names, how many kids they have etc., and they know the same about me. I can say that this helps tremendously when I have to have difficult conversations with them on occasion. I’m not “that HR girl that only comes out of her ivory tower to yell at people.” Granted, this would be impossible in a larger company, and may not even be realistic or appropriate given the OP’s position in his/her company.

    Nonetheless, as other commenters have stated, if they see you as a person who is generally approachable and just trying to do their job, it might help, in addition to finding effective ways to communicate the “whys.” Case in point, every year we have insurance renewal and for the past several years, there have increases every single year. I draft a letter detailing how many carriers we considered, the types of plans considered, and reiterate that we made the best decision we could based on what was available for our group size. There’s still grumbling, but they understand that I did what I could to minimize the hit. Plus it doesn’t hurt that I’m on the same plan they are. I applaud you for trying to figure out what’s going on in your situation and wish you the best of luck!

    1. Yup*

      Even demonstrating a basic understanding about what another group does generates a lot of credibility. I worked in operational finance, supporting three global divisions with over a thousand employees who did very technical work. I got a lot of goodwill momentum by making an effort to understand their work and environment so I could talk shop a little. I could commiserate with them about how profitability (my work) would always be low on the Widget XYZ initiatives (their work) because of the new Thingamajiggy regulation. They seriously appreciated that I knew their aches and pains — upcoming deadlines, zombie projects, competing priorities – because then they could trust that I wouldn’t unknowingly take some sweeping action that would crash their world.

  9. Leslie Yep*

    I’m definitely the bad cop/buzzkill on my team (my boss and I are like Chris Trager and Ben Wyatt of Parks and Rec, respectively–she gets excited about ideas and I politely but firmly remind her that there are only so many dollars and so much time). I’m responsible for keeping our team policy compliant, and…let’s just say going rogue is kind of their MO. I need to be a real hardass to keep them in line on some of this stuff, because it’s a huge pain in the butt for them sometimes.

    However, it’s so important to balance this with everyone knowing that you are in their corner. Consulting them ahead of time when you can. Clearly explaining the rationale, with their perspective in mind. Considering their ease of compliance when you design the policy–and being willing to share a little bit in the burden. Being there to help them out when it’s hard to comply with the policy. Being supportive of them in other areas of your work.

    Even though I routinely need to have really forceful conversations with my colleagues about sticking to our policy commitments, the most common response I get from them is “Thank you for helping to hold me accountable.” I invested them in what it matters that we follow these rules, and as a result I’m a partner–even when I’m making them do something they don’t want to do.

  10. Jamie*

    But if you’re warm and friendly toward people — possibly more than what might come naturally to you — it’s going to be harder to see you as the grinch.

    Just to further comment on Alison’s response – I can tell you from personal experience this is an area where fake-it-till-you-make-it really works.

    During audits sometimes I am auditing people through an interpreter, people with whom I’ve never spoken due to a language barrier. When we first started doing IAs you could feel the tension. I went out of my way to smile and deliberately convey warmth, which wasn’t fake (as I did want them to feel comfortable and I wasn’t playing gotcha) but my natural state tends to be aloof and I have a resting bitchface. So I smiled – a lot – with my eyes even.

    And I know this won’t work everywhere, but I’m in a factory so sneakers are okay and I found when I wore my Hello Kitty Vans and an HK lanyard on my neck to hold my ID they’d smile and laugh…I know it’s silly. But something about that and my hot pink clipboard kind of put people at ease – breaks the language barriers.

    If your natural mien is somewhat intimidating deliberately putting out some signs of the warmer or lighter side of you can make you a lot more approachable – however would be appropriate in your environment.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      “And I know this won’t work everywhere, but I’m in a factory so sneakers are okay and I found when I wore my Hello Kitty Vans and an HK lanyard on my neck to hold my ID they’d smile and laugh…I know it’s silly. But something about that and my hot pink clipboard kind of put people at ease – breaks the language barriers.”

      And it also shows that you are human. That’s important when having to enforce policy. And recognizing that they are human, also. I’m in banking and having an examiner come in who realizes that I’m in a tiny company, wear MANY hats, and that I’m human makes a lot of difference. The ones who are strictly black and white, that think I’m a robot, are the ones that I tend to treat differently and I’m more stand-offish.

    2. Anna*

      I love resting bitchface. It might be the most brilliant thing the Internet has come up with. :) You know exactly what it means when you hear it.

      1. Andrea*

        Ha, I was just glad to finally have a name for mine. Although, I did inherit it from my dad, so I told him he had it, too, so now he’s also using the term.

  11. Mike C.*

    OP, let’s be honest here. By cost cutting, do you really mean freezing wages, eliminating profit-sharing programs and so on? Or maybe you’re telling an already skeleton crew to make due with even less than they have now? Are you cutting corners or gutting a working and profitable system for short term gains? If so, take some responsibility for what you do. If not, read on.

    I’ve working in QA for years now, and I could have been “a hard ass”, but that’s a stupid way to go about things. You don’t need to be a jerk to ensure compliance to regulatory needs, you need to have an understanding of the job being done and what the folks actually doing things need to get that job done safely, correctly and efficiently. You’ll never get their support if you continue.

  12. AVP*

    Your manner of delivery can make a huge difference here. For my job I often deal with someone in the “cost control” position at one of our major clients. She goes through our budgets, tells us if she thinks we’re charging too much in one area or if she thinks we’re paying one of our people too much money, approve or reject the budget, and she has to get her client to buy in and pay what we’re charging.

    Sometimes, this woman is very busy and harried and not particularly nice about what she’s asking us to cut. Other times, she has plenty of time and she’s very thorough and friendly and has a sense of humor about it. I think our budgets actually end up lower in the latter situations, because we’re much more willing to cut if we feel you’re respecting us as professionals and you’re working with us, rather than just being curt and telling us we make too much money. Having our buy-in and understanding makes a huge difference in the end result, and it is almost entirely purchased with warmth and by explaining what you want us to do and why in reasonable terms. Treat us like adults and you will get reasonable people in return…

  13. WFM Kyle*

    In my old company I was responsible for the scheduling in a contact center that was 20hrs a day 7 days a week… which meant I scheduled people for late at night and weekends. You would not believe the kinds of hate I got for making people work weekends… It became very typical for people who quit to send out mass emails saying bye to all their work friends and “F*$% Kyle” or something worse. I’m not exaggerating at all. 12 years later I kick myself for not saving those.

    Anyway, I came to understand the problem wasn’t just that I needed them on these schedules, it was the very poor management they were receiving from their Managers. As someone said above, I was used as a scapegoat for managers who didn’t want to take responsibility for denied PTO or people forced to work through the weekend repeatedly… and believe me, I had a process that gave each manager a lot of input into who got time off, as long as I had my # worked… if someone never got a weekend off it was because their managers wanted to give it to someone else.

    In my new company I made this a major focus to address early on. I made it clear to all managers and supervisors that they had to own the schedules, and I never once let anyone slide with the “it’s their fault” kind of comments. (It certainly also helped that we had much easier hours and were closed weekends)

  14. Jake*

    The OP is missing a huge point here. Our company in the last 2 years has reduced our 401k matches, health insurance coverage, and made getting the updated software and hardware required to do our jobs an absolute nightmare.

    I know the individual that came up with all of those ideas. I (and my co-workers) hold absolutely no grudge against him whatsoever. The reason is two-fold. 1. We are struggling as a group within our company. We have lost millions over the last couple years. 2. The company explained why these changes were necessary.

    Many of us hold a grudge against our company. Very few of us hold a grudge against the individual because we know he is just doing what he has to. It isn’t his fault we aren’t making money. The only way we’d hold a grudge against him is if he was an ass about it or if it was his decisions in the first place causing us to struggle.

    I think it is obvious from how this was written that the OP doesn’t realize he is an ass at work.

  15. ChristineSW*

    So happy to see this thread! I’ve been really interested in program evaluation and/or QA, and am extremely relieved to see that it IS possible to perform the duties of these roles without being a “bad cop”.

    I volunteer with a couple of panels that review grant proposals and both groups use a congenial approach when we meet with agency representatives who come to present and clarify their proposals. Some agencies are easier to work with than others, no doubt, but I think treating these reviews as something to not be afraid of fosters mutual respect and, in some cases, encourages collaboration (many of the reviewers on the county panels are also grantees). I think this approach can absolutely be used in the fields others have mentioned in this thread.

  16. bob*

    Who else remembers the Cheers episode where Norm becomes the company hatchet man and totally runs out of emotion??

    1. fposte*

      Right–and he starts out excellent at it because he blubbers at having to do it. I think there’s a happy medium between the two :-).

  17. Pragmatist*

    You’ve gotten a lot of good advice here – mostly focused on presentation and relationships. In my experience there is one additional issue that you might be overlooking – in fact you probably are. That is, that YOU think that the company will be better off in the long run, but how do you know that? The fact that your bosses are giving you great feedback doesn’t mean that you are doing things that will strengthen the company. And, if you causing that level of resentment, then you almost certainly are NOT strengthening the company – if for no other reason than high levels of staff resentment generally don’t go hand in hand with high levels of organizational success.

    Beyond that, here are some questions you need to consider.Do you know what the short term, immediate effects of your policies? How do you know, what is the source of your information? Do you really understand the long term ramifications of what you are doing? Again, what is your source of information?

    Some types of issues to consider:

    Your cost saving measure actually winds up costing money because it wastes large amounts of staff time, or because it means that you need to use more of another -possibly more expensive – resource.

    Your measures waste so much time that productivity goes down.

    Your measures make it much harder for staff to get their work done. Even if it does not immediately lower the quality of work, this kind of thing never strengthens an organization. If the additional difficulty means lower productivity, more errors or notable drop in quality, then you’ve really shot yourself in the foot.

    Your measures damage your relationships with key outside players.

    Here are some examples of policies (these are real) that were supposed to cut costs or in some way help the organization, but had the reverse effect:

    An absolute ban on the use of car service for staff transportation. Staff were often required to go to and from outside offices in the middle of the day (ie could not even save time by making the required visit at the end of the day and then clocking out and going straight home, or starting the day at the remote site.) Sure, it saved a few dollars on carfare, but the amount of staff time it cost was ridiculous (especially when more than one person had to attend the meeting, etc.) The people who made the rule had no idea how long it took to get from our main office to these places.

    A ban on email attachments . This was supposed to protect the organization from email born malware. Of course, that doesn’t work too well, since there are plenty of other ways to get malware. Furthermore, some of the organizations they worked with absolutely *required* them to be able to accept attachments.

    Rigid policies on the replacement and upgrades to computer hardware and software. This added significant cost to each purchase, limited ability to purchase strategically and take advantage of many opportunities, and sometimes made it close to impossible for staff to do their jobs – jobs that needed to be done for the organization to get paid.

      1. Observer*

        It was IT that banned the attachments

        This happened a few years ago, and at that time, some variation on this was not uncommon

        1. Bea W*

          Some IT depts feel the need to treat users like complete idiots. Sometimes it’s justified, but mostly it’s overkill that does more harm than good.

          If you feel the need to slow things to a crawl with 3 anti virus programs, a net nanny censor, and a couple firewalls, you’re doing it wrong.

          1. Jamie*

            It’s never justified to treat users like idiots. Some people need more oversight and guidance than others…but regular best practices for security and user education works wonders.

            Now, if you have people who are malicious and trying to circumvent security protocols because they think they are clever…you don’t treat them like idiots…you treat them like the threats they are.

        1. Andrea Also*

          My IT dept suggested that policy to me five or so years ago because 1) it would, logically, reduce some incidence of risk and 2) to see the top of my head blow off at the suggestion.

          It was pretty funny + it let them have their Argument of the Week in a safe environment. (There was no way in hell I’d allow that lunacy, which, they knew going in. )

          1. Jamie*

            Sure – it absolutely reduces incidence of risk. The way never, ever getting in a car reduces your risk of dying in an auto accident and never going in the ocean reduces your risk of being eaten alive by a giant squid.

            And if you never get out of bed you have no risk of stubbing your toe. :)

            I’m as risk averse as they come and even I wouldn’t think of this – because you have to weigh the benefits against the limits and it’s just not worth it. Not when best practice for security and informed and educated users will reduce a lot of risks without tying everyone’s hands.

  18. AB*

    Here’s a quote just to reinforce what AAM and others said:

    “But here’s a statistic it’s important to note: social psychologist Ellen Langer did a study that showed that including listeners in the “because” of why something is happening increases their cooperation rate from 60 to 94 percent.”

    (Frances Cole Jones, in “How to Wow – Proven Strategies for Selling your [Brilliant] Self in Any Situation”)

  19. Ruffingit*

    When someone describes themselves as a “natural hard ass” it raises some red flags for me in terms of how they’re treating others. It’s one thing to know you need to be tough in your job, but there are ways to be tough in a soft manner so to speak. I wonder if the OP has taken on the subconscious (or conscience) attitude of “Well, this is my job and I’m doing it well so you people will just have to suck it up!” The attitude you bring to your job is just as, and sometimes even more, important than the work ethic you bring to it. It’s the old saying of being able to tell someone to go hell and have them ask you for directions on how to get there. Good communication while still being tough is an art. If more people than not hate you or dislike you, it’s probably you and not your job.

    1. Jay*

      I could not agree more with this… and the rambling story below tells about my experience.

      I was brought in to my current position as the economy was plunging, and my objective was to cut, cut, cut, and cut some more. At the time I was young, and very much a “hardass.” I was a demanding perfectionist and very focused on efficiency and control. I was highly effective at implementing change and acheiving significant results (I’ll spare you the numbers), but the employees (and several “underperforming” coworkers) hated me, but I generally didn’t care. My supervisors were pleased, and my reviews were superior. I burned myself out constantly “fighting” with them to enforce new policies and monitor performance. I made no effort to get to know my employees personally, listen to their concerns, or ask for their suggestions–it was just slash and burn and the only thing that mattered was results.

      Fast forward a couple years and a major life event changed my perspective. I realized that I no longer wanted to go to work every day feeling like an enemy and constantly fighting with everyone. The general manger was concerned that I was disengaged and no longer acting like my previous self, and my reply was that the old me will probably never return…We discussed his concerns and I continued to do my job. My approach softened, but I was still able to meet my goals and objectives.

      Today, I continue to acheive goals, make budget, and increase productivity as necessary, but I am no longer the enemy. I am actually respected, generally well liked, and have developed some close relationships with employees who would not speak to me in the past. But why?

      I slowly came to realize that the only factor that changed is myself. I am no longer a hardass, nor do I wish/try to be. I don’t insist on fighting every battle, and most importanly I listen.

      In some ways this may slow down the change process, but the results that are acheived are significantly better and with less stress and animosity for everyone involved. The acheivments plus lower turnover and higher morale is a win-win-win.

      Much of it is just from experience, but there are initiatives one can take to communicate more effectively and build relationships if, like me, you are not naturally inclined to be a “people person.”

      **Managing requires building relationships based on trust and respect, so relax and get to know people and learn what is imporant to them
      **Show genuine concern for and interest in the lives of the people you work with
      **Don’t assume you know or understand anything if you are only going to view the world through your personal prism
      **Learn how changes will affect the PEOPLE –not the organization–and discuss the policy from the people perspective.
      **Give people a choice in how to implement or affect the change (illusion or not)
      **Let people know the broad goals and how thier role fits
      **Make time for one-on-one conversations and find out what motivates people

      1. Ruffingit*

        Jay, I give you major kudos for recognizing your approach was problematic and putting in the work to make changes to it that now benefit everyone, including you. That is awesome!

      2. Andrea Also*

        oh god yeah.

        I used to think I could write a memo and thus it would be. It took way too long for the light bulb to go off that maybe the problem was me and my methods and not that people by nature were uncooperative and resistant to change.

        FWIW, I still view myself as a hard ass. I *am* a hard ass, just not a thick skulled one.

  20. Not So NewReader*

    OP, I don’t know if this applies to your setting but I do have a word of caution.
    We have to watch how companies use us.

    I cannot give a lot of detail but I think you will get the general idea. A fellow I know worked for a large company. He was waaay up near the top of the management ladder. The company decided to streamline, cut costs, etc, so it became part of this man’s job to fire people.
    And, OH MY, he fired a lot of people. But he was doing the job upper management wanted. And this went on for quite a while.

    Well. He must have fired everyone the company wanted fired because one day his boss came in and fired HIM.

    See, he got played. He did the dirty work, then when he was done he was dumped. They had no intention of keeping him on.

    I am saying all this because I see where you say you are a natural hard ass at work. That is fine, if that is okay with you, UNLESS you are getting played. Do you feel the role over all is what you expected? Or do you feel the role of hard ass was unexpectedly foisted on you? Do you feel like you are painted into a corner regarding your decisions or do you feel that your decisions are good, solid, effective decisions made of your own choosing?

    At this point my main concern, OP, is that you do not get blindsided like this man in my story here. Other posters have made very good statements about how we play the roles we are assigned, which is also a major consideration in answering your question.

    If neither one of these concerns resonate with you at all, my last guess is that you have someone going around behind your back telling everyone that you are a jerk and most of their problems are because of you. Yeah, I have seen this one, too.

    “I am basically shunned! It kind of hurts that people do not see this as purely business, that this is my job.”
    It’s true, a lot of people will not grasp that this is purely business. Expect that. Other people may see how a person DOES business and decide that this is NOT a person that they are interested in getting to know. Then you will meet people who are all about business and nothing else. There is a full range of all types of people out there. How do you want people to see you? What are you willing to do to help them change their perspective of you?
    Don’t answer me here…. this is just for mulling over and considering.

  21. Steve G*

    Is your organization top heavy? Mine is, so alot of the “bad cops” that might otherwise stand a chance of being like are not. Why should overworked lower level employees feel obliged to cut tiny expenses because some Director or VP that works less hours but makes $60K-$100K MORE per year and who has been at the company a shorter time told me to? I feel like retorting to them “stop traveling the country for meetings you totally could have on skype and stop hiring VPs!!!!”

  22. ByMyself*

    I am so sorry for the OP. I agree that explanation and collaboration are good ways to go about things, but sometimes we have to implement regardless, even when there is no apparent good reason, think of all the silly policies we read here that AAM tells us are legal. So if someone’s job is to enforce, like the OP, most people here seem to be saying, ‘in order not to be bullied and hated when you try to do your job, you must spend valuable time ingratiating yourelf with people to try to convince them to do thiers’. How about someone here saying that people should cooperate with the company they work for and be respectful to their colleagues? The OP isn’t telling people to kill cute furry animals. He or she is telling them to do their jobs so he or she can do hers. Or his.

    1. Andrea Also*

      Sorry. If you are in a position of power, you need to look to yourself first, before you start pointing fingers at other people.

      It’s my responsibility to effect change. Change (solely) by edict seldom works and is a poor substitute for cooperative change.

      Also, people in power cannot be “bullied” by the people under them. The thought that they can is evidence that the word “bullied” is now officially dead of any effectiveness for its actual meaning.

    2. Observer*

      You missed two key points.

      One is that the OP stated the HE (or SHE) IS the person who is creating the policies. Secondly, respect goes both ways. Yes, people need to follow the policies that the company puts in place as long as they are drawing a paycheck.

      But, if a company puts stupid, demeaning, degrading or harmful policies in place, or if they treat their staff without respect, then neither the company nor the people who come up those ideas deserve any respect. Just because a policy is legal, does not mean I have to have any respect for it. Legal does not mean OK, it just means that the government can’t do anything about it.

      And, if someone is just promulgating a policy that they had nothing to do with crafting, then they need to let people know that and how they feel about it, or they will deservedly come in for a share of the contempt the policies have earned.

      1. By Myself*

        There’s a difference between “stupid, demaning, degrading or harmful” policies and “I’m really sorry, we don’t have any more money int he budget for XYZ this financial year”. This siw hat I’m talking about here. Not skimping on donuts.

        As for the statement

        “Also, people in power cannot be “bullied” by the people under them. ” That is absolutely, totally, and categorically wrong. Read any legal document on the matter.

        1. Andrea Also*

          Oh please. There’s no victimhood for people in power. Do your job better.

          I have surely had my own time in isolation. There was a few years that I went home and cried every day.

          Then I learned how to do my job better and, suddenly, everybody around me got better. And I got happy.

          Power means “suck it up, Buttercup”.

          1. ByMyself*

            Three points:
            1. People are not just attacked because they’re bad at their jobs. A female manager may be picked on by her male staff, with this endorsed by her own male manager and male colleagues (or vice versa). This can be the same with race, sexuality, age etc. In this situation firing isn’t going to fly and bullying has nothing to do with performance. Also, Andrea your comment seems to suggest *I* am not doing my job. I’m not the OP!
            2. I’m not in the U.S., and in the jurisdiction where I work, bullying is illegal but firing is pretty much impossible.
            3. I am honestly trying to understand the comments above: I just don’t see there’s ever an excuse for rudesness or unkindness.

            1. Observer*

              That’s all completely irrelevant here. The OP has specifically stated that he is getting flack for being a “hardass” in promulgating policies that no one likes. This is totally about how he is exercising his power.

              (Before anyone jumps down my throat, I’m only using “he / his for convenience, not to indicate that it could not be a female.)

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          There’s no law against workplace bullying, so I’m not sure what the legal reference is, but in general the concept of “bullying” by someone you have the power to fire doesn’t really work. If a person is being bullied by someone you could fire, that person is a very, very poor manager.

        3. Observer*

          Of course there is a difference. The fact that the OP is seeing such a high level of resentment is an indicator that it is NOT “Sorry we don’t have the budget for xyz this year”, where XYX is both significant in cost and not of major concern for people. Either that, of the OP is doing a TERRIBLE job of providing reasonable information. Letting people know why you are doing x, y and z is not “wasting time ingratiating yourself” with people. It’s treating them with basic courtesy. If someone can’t be bothered with that, or considers it a “waste of time” then that person DESERVES the contempt he (or she) gets.

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